Prospective associations between physical activity and BMI with irregular periods and heavy menstrual bleeding in a large cohort of Australian women

Gabriela P. Mena, Gregore I. Mielke, Wendy J. Brown

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


STUDY QUESTION: Are physical activity (PA) and body mass index (BMI) associated with irregular periods and heavy menstrual bleeding (HMB) in Australian women? SUMMARY ANSWER: Overweight and obese women have higher odds of both irregular periods and HMB than underweight/normal-weight women, but high levels of PA reduce the odds of HMB. WHAT IS KNOWN ALREADY: Most studies on relationships between PA and menstrual problems have focused on female athletes, but there have been few population-based studies. STUDY DESIGN, SIZE, DURATION: Prospective cohort study, 10618 participants in the Australian Longitudinal Study of Women's Health (ALSWH) who completed mailed surveys in 1996, with follow-ups in 2000, 2003, 2006, 2009, 2012, and 2015. PARTICIPANTS/MATERIALS, SETTING, METHODS: Participants were aged 22 to 27 in 2000. They were asked to report their PA levels and the frequency of irregular periods and HMB in each survey. BMI was calculated at every survey from self-reported weight and height. Generalised estimating equation population-averaged model analyses were conducted to calculate odds ratios (OR) and 95% confidence intervals (95% CIs). MAIN RESULTS AND THE ROLE OF CHANCE: At age 22 to 27 years, the prevalence of irregular periods was 19.4%. This remained stable over 15 years. There were no associations between PA and irregular periods. Overweight and obese women had higher odds of irregular periods [overweight: OR 1.08, (95% CI 1.00-1.17); obese: OR 1.29, (95%CI 1.18-1.41)] than women who were underweight/normal weight.The prevalence of HMB at age 22-27 years was 15.9%; this doubled over 15 years. Women who were highly active had 10% lower odds of HMB than women who reported no PA [OR 0.90, (95%CI 0.82-0.98)]. Overweight and obese women had higher odds of HMB [overweight: OR 1.15, (95%CI 1.07-1.23); obese: OR 1.37, (95%CI 1.26-1.49)] than women who were underweight/normal weight. Among obese women, high levels of PA were associated with 19% [OR 0.81, (95%CI 0.68-0.97)] reduction in the odds of HMB. LIMITATIONS, REASONS FOR CAUTION: Data collected in the ALSWH are self-reported, which may be subject to recall bias. Reverse causation, due to menstrual problems impacting PA, is possible although sensitivity analyses suggest this is unlikely to have affected the results. Other conditions, e.g., polycystic ovary syndrome, for which no or incomplete data were available, could have affected the results. WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF THE FINDINGS: Intervention studies are needed to assess the effect of increasing PA in women with HMB, but these preliminary findings suggest that promoting PA could be an affordable and feasible strategy for reducing HMB in young adult women. STUDY FUNDING/COMPETING INTEREST(S): The ALSWH is funded by the Australian Government. Funding for these analyses was provided by a University of Queensland (UQ) International Postgraduate Research Scholarship and a UQ International Development Fellowship. The authors declare no conflicts of interest.N/A.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1481-1491
Number of pages11
JournalHuman reproduction (Oxford, England)
Issue number6
Early online date7 Apr 2021
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021
Externally publishedYes


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